- December 7, 2019
This digitally revamped first Christmas production in the new re-styled Quarry Theatre space at the Leeds Playhouse definitely inspires, but narrowly misses key beats on the way to Oz and back again.
We all know what this classic is about: innocent but courageous Dorothy transports to the wonderful technicolour land of Oz and voyages through a mesmerising alternate reality of her life full of lions and tigers and bears – and a wicked witch – only to awaken back at home with a renewed appreciation of the loving family around her.
Countless stage versions and film adaptations exist, and this offering from the Leeds Playhouse is sure to top the Christmas list of things to see during this festive period.
The brilliant Lucy Sherman did Dorothy great justice; one could close their eyes and think it was the young Judy Garland herself, from the great execution of her character, to the belting-out of all the classic songs from the film (including some new numbers); and when a real life dog as Toto is brought on stage, the show surely wins the hearts of everyone.
Aside from Sherman, the other cast are top-notch too, but the show-stealers for family audiences are definitely Marcus Ayton playing the Lion and Polly Lister playing the Wicked Witch, whose characters are raucous – almost pantomine – often breaking the fourth wall and effortlessly engaging with audiences.
Though the cast is definitely important to hold audience attention, the production values too should match the cut. And whilst this production is certainly ambitious, the heavy use of projections in Kansa’s and Oz just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard. Most of the major beats of the story (like the transportation of Dorothy to Oz and back again, the dazzling ruby slippers and the entrance/exits of the Wicked Witch) seem a little underwhelming and the projections (especially in Oz) seem insipid.
With all this said, however, there is something positively different about this updated version for modern audiences, especially when compared to the original film by MGM. And it doesn’t just stop with the casting, which includes the fabulous Angela Wynter – a black woman – cast as Auntie Em, transformed gracefully as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, donning a crown obviously inspired by the Aso Oke hat, popularly worn by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, imbibing her character with so much more presence and validation (a Yoruba Queen in the land of Oz!) and cementing (finally!) a positive representation of black actors on stage.
This version, though, goes still further with diversity, casting a woman as the Scarecrow (who said Scarecrows can’t be female?), and the revelation that the Tin Man’s heart is lost because of a man he is in love with, works naturally. Perhaps the Tin Man was always in love with a man, even in the 1939 film version, but then, that was 1939, and audiences may not have been ready.
All in all, though, this production is certainly one not to miss this Christmas, and it’ll have you humming the classic tunes all the way home – just minus the yellow-brick road.
Cast & Crew:
Dorothy – Lucy Sherman
Zeke/Lion – Marcus Ayton
Uncle Henry/Guard – Phile Cole
Farmhand/Toto Puppeteer – Ailsa Dalling
Hickory/Tin Man – Sam Harrison
Profession/Wizard – Graham Hoadly
Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch – Polly Lister
Hunk/Scarecrow – Eleanor Sutton
Auntie Em/Glina – Angela Wynter
Director – James Brining
Set & Costume – Simon Higlett
Musical Director – Tamara Saringer
Choreographer – Lucy Cullingford
Lighting Designer – Tim Mitchell